Stepping Stone: Madvillain // Madvillainy

RateYourMusic lists Madvillainy as the fourth best hip-hop album ever, with a 4.10 rating (averaged from 11,175 ratings at the time of this writing). It’s worth noting that the albums that rank above Madvillainy—DJ Shadow’s Entroducing…, Nas’s Illimatic, and the top spot of Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)—were all made in the 1990s, when hip-hop had (arguably) matured artistically and cemented itself as a staple of modern music. (There’s a reason this time, concurrent to the late 80s, is still referred to as “The Golden Age of Hip-Hop.”) This album essentially cemented the careers of producer Madlib and rapper MF DOOM as well, shooting them into the upper echelons of underground hip-hop, and making them some of the people to work with in the genre. Essentially, we’re talking about an album that, by many, is considered flawless. So what is my beef with it?

Stepping Stone: Emmure // Felony

This post probably seems way out of place among the many pieces I’ve written for Heavy Blog. But for anyone that knows me, bands like Emmure comprised the bulk of my high school listening, and I threw down hard during their set at Warped Tour 2010. That same year marked the peak of my adoration for “-core” music, though, as I started gravitating more towards the old school metal bands that my friend Mark would show me during lunch. My iPod started filling up with songs like “Dead but Dreaming” by Deicide rather than “Dead but Dreaming” by Carnifex, and before I knew it, I was another metal elitist scoffing at the very thought that Emmure used to be one of my favorite bands. Thankfully, I’ve matured quite a bit since then; not to the point where I’d write an “In Defense Of” post for Emmure, but enough to ignore any news updates about the band rather than leaving an unproductive shitpost in the comments section (“lol, binary code metal, amirite???”). And as I saw updates on their latest album Look at Yourself, it made me reminisce about my old listening habits and prompted me to revisit what used to be my favorite record of theirs: Felony. The result was the following nostalgia-ridden Stepping Stone for a band I view as both one of the worst and most important bands that defined the trajectory of my growth as a metal fan. It was my full intention going into this to be as objective and honest as possible, and I hope this will read as a fair critique of one of metal’s most polarizing bands.

Stepping Stone: Miles Davis // Sketches of Spain

This is a special article for me, because Miles Davis essentially got me started on jazz. It was listening to albums like Kind of Blue and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters that got me interested in what this genre of music had to offer, and my love of jazz only grew from there. For a while, I tried to get as much Miles and Herbie as I could, buying CDs on a whim. On one of these whims I found what was also considered one of Miles’s best releases, a little album called Sketches of Spain. And I can say without a doubt my life has been changed by this album in ways I could never quite expect.

Stepping Stone: Wintersun’s Wintersun

Wintersun’s eponymous debut was a watershed album for me. Before Wintersun, I listened exclusively to power metal. If I found the courage to tell someone I liked metal, I assured them I didn’t listen to “the heavy stuff with the screaming”. But the basis of my hasty qualifications began to crumble away as I became bored by the pomp and feather-light punch of supposed “power” metal, and I found myself enjoying the odd song with harsh vocals. Wintersun was the album where extreme metal finally began to “click”, and struck through the stubborn levee that I’d built. As such, it was the bridge for the heavier parts of the metal, an album which made me more confident in listening to the music I liked rather than the music I already knew. That is the very essence of a “stepping stone”, opening up a whole new field of music for us if not whole new methods of listening.

Stepping Stone: Seether // Disclaimer II

I’ve talked before about some of the music that got me where I am today, with the likes of Linkin Park and Ministry. At an earlier time than my forays into Ministry and industrial music, however, there were a certain key groups that I immediately latched onto, mostly because my friend let me rip his CDs onto my crappy little Sandisk MP3 player. I’m talking bands like Linkin Park, but, also, a not-so little group from South Africa called Seether and their sophomore album Disclaimer II.

Stepping Stone: Nightwish’s Oceanborn

I did not listen to music as a child. Before I turned thirteen, I had enjoyed perhaps thirty individual songs in my lifetime. I had never had a favorite band or album. When asked what my favorite genre of music was, I would reply “Rock and roll!” with fake enthusiasm because that was the music boys liked. But this musical apathy diametrically changed with my sudden and unexpected discovery of Nightwish. Unlike most metal fanatics, I have the special luxury of knowing exactly when my metal journey started. ‘Twas a dark and stormy night on August 26th, 2009, and thirteen year old Andrew was trawling YouTube for funny videos in a dark basement because I’ve always been pretty cool. I came across a “misheard lyrics” video of Nightwish’s song “Wishmaster”, and I exalted in joy because I had finally found the funniest video on YouTube.

I shared the video with my equally cool and hip friends, and we all made fun of the strange sounding soprano vocals and the dramatic keyboard. But as I returned to the video countless times over a couple of weeks, I realized that I had begun to watch the video in order to listen to the music instead of laugh at the misheard lyrics. I was forced to admit to myself that the same vocals and keyboards I had derided actually sounded pretty cool. And thus began my journey.